into the Life of Imam Musa Al-Kathem (peace be upon him)
Imam Musa Al-Kathem was reared under the care of his father, Imam Jaafar As-Sadeq
(peace be upon him). He lived with his father for twenty years, and during these
years he learned in his father’s seminary of jurisprudence and science. As a
young child, he was the most prominent among his siblings.
The Political Circumstances during his Imamate
After the death of his father, the phase of Imam Musa Al-Kathem's
Imamate was marked by the rise of the Abbasid Caliphate. The Abbasid authority
had become established and strengthened, and the Imam assumed leadership in very
difficult and tough circumstances because the Abbasid Caliph, Al-Mansur, was
What made matters harder was that the brother of the Imam, Abdullah Al-Aftah,
falsely claimed that he was the Imam. Some people followed Abdullah, and they
were later known as the faction of “Al-Fatahiya”. There was another group known
as the Ismailites who believed that Ismail, the eldest son of Imam Jaafar As-Sadeq
(peace be upon him), was the rightful Imam –even though Ismail had died while
Imam Jaafar As-Sadeq (peace be upon him) was still alive. At first, the Abbasids
were in doubt as to the true identity of the appointed Imam and thus they were
heedless of Imam Musa Al-Kathem (peace be upon him). They were not able to
ascertain who the true Imam was in order to persecute or assassinate him. This
granted Imam Musa Al-Kathem (peace be upon him) a greater chance to fulfill the
role God entrusted him with.
The Role of Imam Musa Al-Kathem (peace be upon him)
Imam Musa Al-Kathem (peace be upon him) strove through available
methods and by taking the surrounding circumstances into account to continue the
way of his forefathers, the Imams (peace be upon them). He took the following
1-Establishing the belief in the Twelve Imams: Through teaching people to return
to these prominent figures. In this way, Imam Musa Al-Kathem (peace be upon him)
presented his authority to the Shiite society, and the Shiites firmly believed
in his Imamate.
2-Worship and morals: He (peace be upon him) fulfilled the role of Imam
thoroughly. In his time, he was the person who worshipped God the most and
renounced worldly pleasures. He was also the most knowledgeable and the most
scholarly in Islamic jurisprudence. He was always in a state of supplication to
God -even in the hardest moments which he spent in the prisons of the Abbasids.
His supplication was: “My God, Thou knew that I used to entreat you to spare [my
time] for your worship. Thou hast granted me that, praise be to Thee.”
Imam Musa Al-Kathem (peace be upon him) confronted some immoralities which were
widespread in society and which were contrary to the teachings of Islam. An
example on this is the story of Barefoot Bishr. Imam Musa Al-Kathem (peace be
upon him) used to pass in front of his home and hear the sound of singing coming
from therein. Once, the Imam (peace be upon him) happened to meet a bondmaid of
Bishr. He asked her: “O bondmaid! Is the owner of this home a free man or a
slave?” She answered: “A free man!” The Imam (peace be upon him) answered her:
“You are truthful. If he were a slave he would have feared his Lord.”
When Bishr heard these words, he was shaken to the core and followed the Imam
barefoot. He repented at the hands of the Imam and became one of his companions.
3-Teaching people doctrines and jurisprudence: The Imam (peace be upon him) had
a prominent status in his approach to issues in doctrine and Islamic legislation
during his time. He confronted groups who believed in false doctrines and
radical religious sects, and invalidated false narrations. He accomplished this
through the formation of gatherings and intellectual discussions which made
Medina -the center of knowledge and intellect for jurists and transmitters of
narrations in his time- a destination for students from the far reaches of the
earth. Historical sources state that they attended his gatherings and placed
wooden boards in the cuffs of their garments on which they wrote what they heard
from the Imam (peace be upon him).
Many jurists and scholars who specialized in different Islamic sciences
graduated from the Imam’s seminary in Medina. This seminary was a continuation
of the seminary of Imam Muhammad Al-Baqer and Imam Jaafar As-Sadeq (peace be
The Abbasid caliphs who were contemporary to Imam Musa Al-Kathem
(peace be upon him) were: Al-Mansur, Al-Mahdi, Al-Hadi, and Harun.
The rule of Al-Mansur was marked by adversity, slaughter, and expulsion. He
filled prisons with the descendants of Imam Ali (peace be upon him), confiscated
their wealth, severely tormented them and displaced them. He brutally crushed
most opposing enterprises.
When Al-Mansur died, his son Al-Mahdi became the Caliph. He reduced the pressure
and surveillance on the Household of the Prophet (peace be upon him and his
Household). This allowed Imam Musa Al-Kathem (peace be upon him) to engage in
wide scholarly activity in Medina and he became renown in the Islamic Nation.
The Caliph Al-Hadi was different however. He was known for his brutality and
harassment of the Household of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his
Household). During his reign, Hussein son of Ali, one of the descendants of Imam
Hassan (peace be upon him) revolted against the Abbasids. This revolt was later
known as the “Revolt of Fakh”. Hussein son of Ali was able to take over Medina.
He confronted the Abbasid army in battle in the village of “Fakh” near Mecca
which ended in a horrible tragedy. The warriors were killed and beheaded and
some were taken prisoner. The heads of the martyrs and the prisoners were taken
to Al-Hadi who said referring to Imam Musa Al-Kathem threateningly: “By God,
Hussein revolted only at his order… May God end my life if I keep him alive!”
However, he was unable to fulfill his threat for he died after a short while.
Thus, Haroun became the Caliph and the pressure and terror he inflicted on the
descendants of Imam Ali (peace be upon him) were even more than what his
predecessors had committed.
To face such a situation, Imam Musa Al-Kathem (peace be upon him) called upon
his companions and followers to avoid any dealings with the tyrannical Abbasid
rule which inflicted oppression upon the descendants of Imam Ali (peace be upon
them) more than what the Umayyad authority had committed against them. He
requested that they should be fully secretive in their movements. However,
Haroun was malignant and fearful of the Imam (peace be upon him). He placed him
in prison and appointed individuals to be observant of his sayings and actions
so that he would find a shortcoming which would give him an excuse to kill the
Imam (peace be upon him). However, the informers failed and were not able to
condemn him with anything. In addition to this, the Imam (peace be upon him) had
an effect on them with his high morals and kind behavior, and they became
disposed toward him. This led Haroun to move him to another prison –the prison
of As-Sindi Bin Shahek- to put more constraint upon him and to treat him
In spite of the intense suffering of the Imam (peace be upon him) in that
prison, he remained steadfast and refused to yield to the wishes of the tyrant.
The Martyrdom of Imam Musa Al-Kathem (peace be upon
Imam Musa Al-Kathem (peace be upon him) spent a long time in the prisons of
Haroun who was unable to do anything. He despaired of making him bend so he
decided to kill him. He ordered for poison to be placed in dates, and thus Imam
Musa Al-Kathem (peace be upon him) was martyred on the 25th of the month of
Rajab, year 183 of Hegira. He was buried in Al-Kathimiya in Iraq.
 Al-Mufid, Al-Ershad,
volume 2, 240
 Al-Qomi, Abbas, Al-Kuna wal Alqab, volume 2, 168
 Al-Majlisi, The Seas of Light, volume 48, 151